Many years ago, I fell in love with Tortilla Soup over dinner al fresco on a lovely courtyard in Sinaloa, Mexico.
We were on a trip to the Barrancas del Cobre and had an overnight at a quaint hotel in Los Mochis. The soup was divine – a simple chicken broth with melting queso fresco, fried tortillas, and herbs. When we got back home I had to recreate it, and still do to this day.
Fast forward more than a couple of decades in these pandemic times, and I find myself watching more Facebook videos than before, one in particular caught my attention. A true master of Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless making a Tortilla Soup.
Now the Chef has probably made a zillion versions of tortilla soup but this one resonated with me – with its addition of mild, smoky, raisiny pasilla chiles.
As a polar opposite to my Los Mochis version with its brothy style, here I also added a quarter cup of masa harina to the soup as a thickening agent. The masa added heft and a super corn flavor. The result was an extraordinary amalgamation of complex chile and earthy corn. Rich and satisfying, it is a meal in itself.
Since pasillas are not particularly spicy…and for another layer of flavor and texture, I made an oil with the hotter chile de arbol, and sprinkled some of these toasted chile crumbles over the soup.
A couple months ago we had an absolutely delightful and completely unique meal at Roy Choi’s restaurant, Best Friend, at Park MGM on The Las Vegas Strip.
“Best Friend is… Koreatown in a capsule – a portal to the streets of LA, but also rooted in what makes Las Vegas… VEGAS. Hip hop-to-bibimbop. Kimchi-to-spaghetti. BBQ and late-night food. I want Best Friend to energize the minds of people looking to experience the best in life. Whether they are from Hollywood or Hong Kong, D.C. or Down Under, I hope all guests are licking their fingers with their mouths full saying ‘holy sh!t’ as they reach across the table for another bite. LA food in Las Vegas. Los Vegas. Best Friend. Forever.” – Roy Choi
Blown away by the KALBI Korean BBQ marinated bone-in short rib; SLIPPERY SHRIMP crispy rock shrimp, chili mayo, walnuts; ELOTES kewpie mayo, lime juice, tajín, cotija, cilantro; and EGGPLANT SCHNITZEL.
The eggplant was simple yet elevated with its silky interior and crunchy exterior. The sauce was intriguing, creamy, and mustardy. Fresh peppery green arugula provided the perfect balance to the fried eggplant. Brilliant.
In his endearing, personal, and somewhat irreverent cookbook L.A. Son, Chef Choi writes, “I make a mean schnitzel.” Yep, he sure does.
A Moist, Tasty, Satisfying Vegetarian Meatloaf
Oatmeal, Quinoa, Walnuts, Hazelnuts, and Gruyere Cheese
Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy
The somewhat mysterious walnut loaf on the vegetarian restaurant menu seemed way too heavy for lunch, so I ordered the sprouted salad instead.
While the salad was completely delicious, I was still curious about that hearty, compelling “vegetarian meatloaf” so I decided to make one at home.
While researching vegetarian walnut meatloaf recipes, I came across several that sounded similar to our local restaurant’s version. Upon further investigation, it appears that the original recipe is over 2 decades old, from famous vegetarian chef Deborah Madison.
Madison recently noted that 20 years ago she would add cheese to many of her recipes. These days however, with the variety and quality of vegetarian ingredients, she no longer relies on cheese to substitute for the meat. In this vegetarian meatloaf, cheese does play an important role…but vegan cheese should work fine too.
In my interpretation of the recipe, I substitute oatmeal and quinoa for Madison’s brown rice, and make many other adjustments as well, but credit for the concept definitely goes to her.
Take your favorite homemade chicken noodle soup and give it a hearty twist: substitute spätzle (little German dumplings) for packaged noodles.
Spätzle is fun to make, although it’s a little bit messy. It is certainly more work than dumping a bag of egg noodles into boiling water, but the end result is definitely worth the time and energy.
Made from wholesome ingredients including eggs, milk, and flour; you probably have everything on hand to make spätzle right now. The only thing missing would be a spätzle maker, an inexpensive gadget that cuts the batter into small knobs. Don’t fret though, you could easily use a colander with large holes and press the dough through with a spatula.
Gone are those kitschy restaurants and funky shops that once lined the docks of the busiest port in the country. The entire Ports O’ Call Village was recently demolished…with bulldozers, and it was painfully traumatic for the locals. But it will be a good thing in the end (we hope) because by 2020 the old fish joints will be replaced by a mega development of glossy restaurants and high-end shops called the San Pedro Public Market.
In the meantime, here are five places to enjoy brunch now, perhaps while waiting for your cruise ship to sail from the iconic Port of Los Angeles.
I awoke to another zillion emails, but one really caught my eye. It was for New Year’s Day Cornbread from Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, a specialty food company known for their glorious Heirloom Beans.
Sando wrote, “This recipe comes from my pal Taylor Boetticher of the Fatted Calf Charcuterie. If you’re in the Bay Area, try making your Black Eyed Peas with their bacon or other pork treats. The recipe is true Texas cornbread and it’s perfect with your pot of good fortune. A huge thanks to Taylor’s mother, Star Boetticher, for sharing the recipe and keeping good conditions alive.”
I headed off to the kitchen to preheat the oven. Baking with available ingredients, it turns out that I had to replace the whole milk with 1% milk, and swapped low fat plain Kefir for buttermilk …hoping it would work. And it did! This Cornbread is perfect even with my substitutions, no need to look for any other cornbread recipe, ever.
The cornbread was served with room-temperature salted butter that was blended with honey…and a pot of coffee. ‘Twas a delightful December breakfast. The custard layer is simply genius. For good fortune, I will make it again on New Year’s Day to be served with Black Eyed Peas and Collard Greens (recipe now posted here).
Black Eyed Peas are eaten for luck, Collard Greens are symbolic of dollar bills, and Cornbread is symbolic of gold. And we will add a Glazed Spiral Cut Ham to the menu because pigs have long been a symbol of wealth and gluttony. Sounds delicious and lucky, can’t beat that. Here’s to a Prosperous New Year!
French Bistro Trout Amandine with Haricots Verts
Almonds, Dried Currants, Capers, Lemon, Browned Butter, Parsley
The back story for this dish started last summer when I received an email from Mon Ami Gabi Restaurant in Las Vegas regarding their Summer Scratch Off event. I wasn’t particularly interested in the event, but the image of the trout with fresh green beans really caught my eye. It looked so balanced and tasty, I saved it to my computer.
The restaurant describes itself as honoring classic French cuisine, serving traditional French gastronomy in a quaint Parisian bistro, devising fresh takes on classic fare.
On a recent a trip to Vegas, we had to have lunch at our favorite al fresco restaurant. Who can resist sitting outside on The Strip, watching the spectacular choreographed Bellagio water fountains accompanied by Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman singing Con Te Partiro? Not us, not ever. It is a rare visit to Vegas indeed, when we do not have breakfast or lunch at Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas. On one trip a while back, I even purchased a set of their plates for my collection.